Drinking coffee and reading in a place that’s not my apartment is something I often confuse with “doing work”. Which I sort of am, working. On my central nervous system with caffeine, and my reading muscles with someone else’s words. I did this today after an hour of laying in the park, which is called Thompson or Thompkins—I can never get that right, despite having lived blocks away from it for several years, and to look it up now would be to cheat; same goes with Nicholson Cage, whom I can’t help but call that: Nicholson. Though I know that’s wrong. I also cannot pronounce the word “Marlboro” without great difficulty, like I’m trying to swallow the inside of my own mouth. The point is: that park always smells like piss.
In the coffee shop, a probably-piss-smell-adopted I work. A few tables in front of me, a coxcomb-red-headed indie rockstress eats a sandwich made with black bread the color of molasses or no morals, and sprouts that sparsely sprout out around its sandwich mouth like a pre-pubescent mustache. She talks with her male friend, who sports an effete bob and a blue and white striped nautical shirt, looking exactly as he should look. (There’s a tangent here that ends with: “and that’s how I discovered I had Russian blood”; another time.) The two of them talk about whatever they talk about, probably something they talk about every time they see each other, something they’re both comfortable with, happy not to acknowledge the rehashed topic or that this itself is just another rehearsal for next time. But for me, their conversation murmurs with a perfect music of non-words into the other ambient sounds: spoons clanging as they’re returned to their spoon homes; a nail-and-board type of southern hymn playing over the speakers, disassociating the shop’s proprietors with their likely suburban upbringings; the cracked heritage of these wooden chairs, restless and swollen with anxiety on the uneven floorboards; the anti-sound of the sentences I’m reading elbowing out the other thoughts in my brain.
Then, I let loose a single gut-shot laugh that surprises even me. A reference in the book to parmesan cheese that wouldn’t be funny unless you’d been living with the voice. And it punches the air and kills the couple’s conversation like they’d been doused with a bucket of cold stares. I fall out of my book world and into the cavity of silence created by my abrupt, hollow thud of a jolted laugh. And we sit there in it for a moment, stunned, all of us, together, only not at all.